Salaam. Dear Reader,
Growing up in the 1980s — that most optimistic of decades – we thought that by the year 2020 we would all be whizzed around in flying cars. In reality, 2020 is the year that planes are grounded, double parked like taxis along the world's airport runways. Yet as many aspects of life ground to a halt, books and reading became the stars of the new Covid reality: Wardah completed her first book club year and we welcomed so many new titles to our shelves.
To wrap up the year, our six booksellers present the books we consider to be Wardah Books of the Year 2020. There will be a separate list for Children's books. The titles are, in random order:
Whenever it is in stock, the book Secrets of Divine Love by A. Helwa would be on the top of our weekly bestseller list. Week after week we will see readers come back to the bookshop to get copies to give to their friends. If there is one book that readers want everybody else to read this year, it's Secrets of Divine Love.
The booksellers were also taken by this book to such an extent that two of our booksellers sat down (virtually) with the author on separate occasions to chat. Fadhilah spoke to her first and their conversation is recorded here in text form. Ibrahim followed up a few months later, and their Zoom conversation is recorded here.
The author's language is beautiful without being vague, and is sincere and heartfelt without being confessional.
The key reason why Secrets of Divine Love has touched so many people is that it is immediately accessible without recourse to dilution or simplification of what it is to be a practicing Muslim who wants to walk the path towards Allah. The author's language is beautiful without being vague, and is sincere and heartfelt without being confessional.
The reader is kept engaged throughout the author's explorations of the pillars of Islam, of repentance, of death, of heaven and hell, leading eventually to a vantage point where the reader could begin formulating the eternal question anew: why am I here and what is my purpose?
Purchase Secrets of Divine Love: Click here
Humankind: A Hopeful History is a little bit of an outlier in this list because it is written from a secular perspective. But we feel this book is important because it provides substantial research on the practice of husnul dhon (the author never used this term obviously; the term refers to the mode of thinking well of people, of ourselves, and of our Creator).
Negativity bias presents a barrier to overcoming not just xenophobia, but also to practicing moral courage.
According to Rutger Bregman we are all, at default, susceptible to negativity bias. We assume the worst in people, especially people who are not in our tribe; and we interpret the news and even scientific data in cynical ways. Negativity bias presents a barrier to overcoming not just xenophobia, but also to practicing moral courage. It takes courage to be kind, to think well of others, to give friends and family the benefit of the doubt, to craft policy and plan public institutions with the belief that citizens will cooperate for the good of society.
Bregman argues for a society that is grounded in compassion, beginning with how we see ourselves collectively. Overall, the theme he keeps coming back to is this: if you treat people as if they are responsible, considerate, and reliable, they will be.
Purchase Humankind: Click here.
Staying with the theme of moral courage, With the Heart In Mind: The Moral and Emotional Intelligence of the Prophet ﷺ by Mikaeel Ahmed Smith is a ground-breaking work that should be read by everyone who wants to be serious about religion and wants to be serious about building a better life.
If we remain unaware of our emotional and moral intelligence, we run the very real risk of jeopardising all aspects of our lives – including the lives of those we hold most dear. Further, Ustadh Mikaeel makes it clear that the Islamic conception of morality is different from – or maybe even at odds with – secular notions of morality.
Morality in Islam is not subjective and "the lack of communal conformity regarding the appropriateness and inappropriateness of behaviours has resulted in an unstable and confused society."
Purchase With the Heart in Mind: Click here.
Abdal Hakim Murad goes much further along these lines in his book Travelling Home: Essays on Islam in Europe. Ostensibly about Islam and how the religion is experienced in Europe, there is much here for the Singapore Muslim reader: after all, we do live in one of the most Westernised societies in Southeast Asia.
His prose is nimble yet devastating; his arguments are nuanced yet grounded; like a seasoned pugilist, he floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.
Abdal Hakim Murad says at the outset that this book is polemical and will be uneasy reading for secular Muslim apologists as well as literal fundamentalists (he does not mince words). Rather it is for "vagrants, nostalgics, dissidents, and dervishes of conscience...". I quite like the label 'dervishes of conscience,' not least because it is a deliciously whimsical turn in a very serious book, but that's the genius of Abdal Hakim Murad's erudition. His prose is nimble yet devastating; his arguments are nuanced yet grounded; like a seasoned pugilist, he floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.
This is an important book that address a range of the most pressing issues of late modernity: the rise of a brand of fundamentalist liberalism, populism, systemic Islamophobia, identity politics, education, and a few others. The value of this book is that it provides a framework and a vocabulary with which a Traditional Muslim may critically engage these issues.
For example he proffers the term Lahabism as an alternative to Islamophobia, thereby shifting the focus from a nebulous 'fear' of Islam to the active animus, marginalisation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement that the historical (and archetypal) Abu Lahab discharged. While it may be an uneasy read for some, we believe this book deserves our attention because, as Professor Yahya Michot of Hartford Seminary says, it "shows the way forward in a dark and dangerous time."
Purchase Travelling Home: Click here.
But stories of hope and of coexistence in Europe do exist. One story, set in the United Kingdom, is told in a heart-warming novel by British author Ayisha Malik. This Green and Pleasant Land is about a Muslim resident of an English village along the southern coast. Without giving too much away, our protagonist sets about establishing a mosque in his little village. Will worlds collide and civilizations clash?
Ayisha Malik's deft writing of characters and tricky experiences, coupled with her signature sense of humour, make this work an easy and entertaining read despite its exploration of racism and identity. And this is why we need fiction. It shows us possibilities we may never have considered, and explores themes and subtleties from the inside out.
Purchase The Green and Pleasant Land: Click here.
The next book is Al-Shama'il al-Muhammadiyya by Imam al-Tirmidhi, with translation and notes by Shaykh Abdul Aziz Suraqah and Shaykh Mohammed Aslam. With page design meticulously and lovingly executed by Singaporean designer Idris Kamal, this is a work of superlative beauty.
In our time, when beauty is cynically seen as subjective and only 'skin-deep', we must remember that in essence, beauty – with its symmetry, harmony, and proportionality – concords with truth.
The Shama'il is a collection of over 400 hadith on the Prophet ﷺ compiled by the Hadith Master Imam Muhammad ibn Isa al-Tirmidhi (died 279 AH). Of all the compilations of Hadith on the Prophet ﷺ, the Shama'il is the most celebrated, not least because it is as much a devotional text that connects us to the ever-present grace of the Prophet ﷺ as it is an authentic and thorough work of hadith.
In our time, when beauty is cynically seen as subjective and only 'skin-deep', we must remember that in essence, beauty – with its symmetry, harmony, and proportionality – concords with truth. For hearts that are open and receptive, this edition of the Shama'il connects us with the Most Truthful One ﷺ.
Purchase al-Shama'il al-Muhammadiyya: Click here.
And in our tradition, hearts get to be open and receptive only after they undergo purification. For this we turn to the physicians of the spiritual heart such as Imam al-Ghazali, Imam al-Haddad, and Imam al-Mawlud. This year, author Ibn Daud has brought the metaphor of the physician to a contemporary way station.
This work is an accessible manual for people who are seeking to be the best versions of themselves — and everybody is obliged by Sacred Law to work on improving themselves.
His book A Handbook of Spiritual Medicine literally looks and works like those therapeutic manuals medical students stuff their pockets with, complete with colour coding. The work reformulates the essentials of the Ihya of Imam al-Ghazali (especially from the Ihya's quarter on the moral vices or al-mublikat) and presents them within a framework of disease management (underpinned by Quranic and Prophetic evidence): signs and symptoms, treatments, and exceptions.
Diseases of the heart include anger, arrogance, hard-heartedness, love of the world, seeking reputation, and many others. This work is an accessible manual for people who are seeking to be the best versions of themselves — and everybody is obliged by Sacred Law to work on improving themselves. I hope the author develops another volume that outlines Imam al-Ghazali's saving (praiseworthy) virtues or al-munjiyat.
Purchase A Handbook of Spiritual Medicine: Click here.
And one of the saving virtues is the cultivation of deep reflection, and this brings us to the final book in our list, Reflecting on the Names of Allah by Dr Jinan Yousef. In order to reflect and contemplate on the names of Allah, Dr Jinan shows us how to use the most immediate tool at our disposal: our own lives. When 'life happens' we are presented with opportunities to reflect and to see how our failures or triumphs may be pathways towards knowing Allah though His Beautiful Names. But this reflection has to be foregrounded with knowledge and thankfully, Dr Jinan's work provides a wealth of guidance for each of the Names of Allah, drawn from the vast treasury of our tradition, so that we may live by these Beautiful Names.
Purchase Reflecting on the Names of Allah: Click here.
Allah, al-'Alim, and His Prophet ﷺ, al-Amin, know best.